Children's Monitor Online
A Public Policy Update from the Child Welfare League of America

   
   
Vol. 23, Issue 3: 1/26/2010   
Headlines

President to Deliver First State of the Union Wednesday

Way Forward on Health Care Varied and Uncertain

CWLA's 2010 State Fact Sheets Posted

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



President to Deliver First State of the Union Wednesday

On Wednesday, January 27, President Barack Obama will deliver his first State of the Union address. The President did address a joint session of Congress last year in February but that was not a formal State of the Union. There was some consideration to delay this year’s address to as late as February to accommodate any progress or possible passage of health reform legislation but with that timetable now very uncertain the White House decided on the traditional late January date. The economy and health reform are likely to be a major focus once again. The budget will also be a major factor in the speech as it will soon be released by the Administration as required by law. The federal fiscal year 2011 budget, the first by the Obama Administration, is likely to be limited in its overall spending. Departments were asked to draw up spending plans that were either frozen or cut by 5%. If that holds true that means increases in any one program will be dependent on cuts in other areas. The President has already signaled his desire to increase education spending, but beyond that much of the budget will be dependent on the fate of health reform. One of last year’s presidential priorities, that would have been addressed within health reform, was the creation of a new federal home visitation initiative. A second priority from last year was the creation of a new early learning fund, which would have provided mandatory funds to states to help coordinate their child care, Head Start and pre-kindergarten programs. That was to be funded through a reconciliation bill that reformed the college loan program but that bill has been stalled in the Senate after early action by the House of Representatives. CWLA supported both programs, but it is not clear what will happen to either of them at this point. The biggest themes for the State of the Union address are certainly going to be the economy and job creation.

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Way Forward on Health Care Varied and Uncertain

Despite House and Senate negotiators being very close to a final bill that merged the two versions of health care reform, everything has been put on hold now that there is no longer a supermajority of 60 votes needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. Various strategies were under consideration at both the White House and on Capitol Hill. Below are some of the possible approaches:

Do nothing. Under this approach no health care is enacted. This appears to be the least likely scenario at this point although if there is no consensus soon it could become the final result. To this point however there seems to be consensus that Congress has come this close and it would be a missed opportunity that might mean there would be a very long time before providing universal access to health insurance is ever considered again. This is the first time Congress has seriously considered a version of universal health insurance since the last debate was shut down in October 1994--16 years ago.

Rewrite the bill under reconciliation. Time and rules may make this option very difficult to reach. Any rewrite would not only take up much of this year but if it could have the same effect as last year where limited time and attention was available to address many other pending issues. A rewrite could delay action on issues around the economy, bank regulation, the environment, and some human services issues such as education reform and TANF reauthorization. The second hurdle is that while some have pointed to reconciliation as a relatively easy process it really is not. It was designed to enact law changes that reduce the deficit by reducing long term mandatory spending (including entitlements), raising revenue--usually through tax changes and increases or a combination of both. Various provisions of a bill can be struck down if they do not meet what is a very technical "germaneness" rule. If any senator objects and makes a point of order the non-partisan parliamentarian rules. If he rules a provision--say for example banning insurance industry discrimination--does not meet the reconciliation rules, it would then take a vote of 60 senators top overrule that decision. That could mean key provisions would lose out if supporters can't reach a 60-vote supermajority.

House of Representatives passes the bill and any disagreements between the two houses get addressed in a separate bill. That separate bill would likely have to be a reconciliation bill. This option seems to be gathering some consideration. Two of the challenges here are getting House members to agree to the Senate bill. Some of the provisions of the Senate bill may be very objectionable to House members. Many House Democrats are angered that they agreed to a bill and worked out their negotiations and hearings only to have to wait for the Senate to come to agreement, first in the Finance Committee then on the floor. Some members are also angered that they feel that have to capitulate to whatever it takes to get to 60 votes in the Senate, which ultimately means any one senator has more power than several House members. The second challenge is how much of the differences can be addressed in a reconciliation bill.

Start all over with a bipartisan bill. This option again raises the problem of time again. It is also not clear what a bipartisan bill would be. House Republicans offered a health plan last year that did very little to expand coverage and last summer the Finance Committee Chairmen spent several months negotiating initially with four and then three key Republicans senators to develop a bill with only one of those senators (Senator Olympia Snowe, R-ME) voting for a bill in committee but not on the floor.


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CWLA's 2010 State Fact Sheets Posted

As part of the annual CWLA 2010 National Conference, state fact sheets are now posted online. The fact sheets list vital information on a state-by-state basis and include statistics that affect children including the number of children in foster care, the number of children in poverty, the adoption rates and many other vital statistics.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

January 24-27: CWLA National Conference
January 27: State of the Union
February 2: Release of Administration's FY 2011 budget
February 13: Presidents' Day break


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